Airware recently announced the first two investments for its newly established Commercial Drone Fund: Redbird, a cloud data analysis company operating out of Paris, France, and Sky-Futures, a London-based leader in oil and gas data capture and commercial drone analysis. The fund was created in order to provide support for businesses that are developing technologies that are critical to scaling the use of commercial drones across a multitude of applications.
Structured like a VC fund, the Commercial Drone Fund will make investments ranging from $250,000 to $1M in early-stage companies in the commercial sector. Airware is specifically targeting five key subsectors: sensor hardware, cloud-based aerial data analysis tools, drone-based services, software applications, and complete solutions for certain industries.
According to Jonathan Dewey, CEO of Airware, “While the commercial drone industry is evolving rapidly, we still see gaps in the ecosystem. The Commercial Drone Fund will identify and boost the rising stars that are advancing important drone-related initiatives, such as powerful new sensors, intelligent analytics, or innovative field services.” Dewey serves as the fund’s General Partner and hopes to provide a platform for entrepreneurs to obtain the funds they need to see their vision take flight—literally. “I know how hard it is to raise early money in a new space and I want to help other entrepreneurs get further faster.”
To guide its investment decisions, Airware has developed three criteria that it will use to evaluate each potential opportunity. First, the product or service must be differentiated, and show the ability to help solve complex challenges that businesses face when scaling drone use for commercial functions. Second, the product or service must have a strong leadership team behind it that shows unique expertise, knowledge, and experience to deliver on the promise of their vision. Last, the company must have working prototypes, or initial customers using or testing the product or service. It appears that RedBird and Sky-Futures have passed the test.
RedBird has branded itself as offering global solutions to resource optimization, performance improvement, and operations security through its data acquisition and analysis software. Essentially, RedBird equips customers with a complete fleet of drones at their disposal. The company has developed a range of products that are capable of combining different UAVs, sensors, and data processing chains. RedBird drones and software are used in a variety of contexts, including pest and disease monitoring in agriculture production.
Sky-Futures’ goal is to provide safe, cost effective, and experienced UAV inspection services to the oil and gas industries, including HD video, thermal imagery, offshore and onshore inspections, and technical inspection reports. According to case studies published by the company, Sky-Futures’ technologies have saved one company over 90 percent in offshore structural inspection costs, prevented an unscheduled shutdown in an offshore Malaysian operation, and saved one Egyptian oil and gas producer $4M in inspection costs. Including Airwave’s recent investment, Sky-Futures has secured over $4M in funding to date.
RedBird and Sky-Futures will receive more than just capital from the Commercial Drone Fund. Airwave teams with each startup to help grow the business and provides access to its ecosystem of investors, innovators, researchers, and industry professionals. Dewey, for example, has spent over ten years in the drone space through academia at MIT, industry at Boeing, and through founding Airware.
Airware formed around 2011 after its founders identified a substantial gap in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Military autopilots were deemed too inflexible and pricey hobbyist projects were not safe or reliable enough for commercial usages. As Airwave saw it, the industry needed more than just an autopilot. Using its comprehensive team of multi-talented hardware and software engineers, Airware offers businesses a safe, easy-to-use operating system for commercial drones. Its products and services allow businesses to manage a variety of aircraft and to integrate aerial data into design, engineering, asset management, and decision workflows.
Over the past few years, Airware has secured a number of its own investments from key venture capital firms, including a $25M Series B investment from Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz, and First Round Ventures in July 2014, and an undisclosed investment from Intel Capital in April 2015. Serving as Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital made its investment on the heels of Airware’s release of its highly publicized drone operating system, AIP.
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